On September 5, the orthodox Churches of the Julian calendar celebrate the memory of St. Irenaeus of Lyon (130-200). The saint was a bishop, philosopher, theologian, and martyr. Irenaeus was beheaded with a sword for faith in Christ during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211).
Among all the September saints, the celebration in honor of Irenaeus is undoubtedly one of the most significant. After all, he was the first Father of the Church in time, and a dogmatist theologian in history. His writings and teachings became the epitome of the entire glorious second century. It was a time when all Christians expected the soon return of the Lord.
Information about the life of Irenaeus has come down to us thanks to the "Church History" of Eusebius of Caesarea (265-339), Jerome (347-420), Gregory of Tours (538-594), as well as the written works of the saint themselves. Despite the huge contribution to the course of all subsequent Christian history, little is known about the circumstances of his biography. Nevertheless, if we talk about Irenaeus in detail, books should be dedicated to him.
Irenaeus was born around the year 130 in the Asia Minor city of Smyrna. The local Church was of apostolic origin, its foundation going back to John the Theologian himself. Irenaeus received a very thorough philosophical education and received instruction in the Christian faith from the lips of John's disciple, the Bishop of Smyrna Polycarp (70-155).
Irenaeus received a very thorough philosophical education and received instruction in the Christian faith from the lips of the disciple John, Bishop of Smyrna, Martyr Polycarp (70-155). It was a time of rapid spread of Christianity. The good news was hastily preached to prepare the world for the meeting of the Lord (1 Cor. 11:26). To preach the gospel, Irenaeus went to Gaul.
The local Christian community was originally of Greek origin and lived in a hostile pagan Celtic environment. From time-to-time violent pagan persecutions broke out against Christians. During one such persecution under Marcus Aurelius (161–180), the first Bishop of Lyon, Pothinus (87–177), was killed in prison. Irenaeus became his successor and the second Bishop of Lyon in history.
Irenaeus' life's work was the fight against the false knowledge of the Gnostic teachings, to which he dedicated his main work, which went down in history under the name "Against Heresies".
The danger of Gnosticism lay in the fact that, unlike Roman paganism, it did not try to fight the Church, but, on the contrary, tried to use it for its own purposes. The Gnostics mixed their own Scriptures with the original gospels. However, they did not have any visible unity of organization. In fact, they became the prototype of all subsequent esoteric, essentially occult, and magical ideas that will be spread in the name of Christianity and take advantage of general ignorance. When the voice of the Church falls silent, the world is silenced by the roar of false prophets.
Refuting Gnosticism, Irenaeus urged Christians to trust only the words of the canonical Scriptures, to remain faithful to the Apostolic Tradition, and, most importantly, to observe the visible unity of the Church. This is his main commandment to us, living in an era of mutual divisions. Without visible unity, Orthodoxy runs the risk of becoming a mirage. Contrary to prejudice, dogmatic knowledge should be known, studied, and transmitted to others. Secular factors are characterized by invisible theological tectonics.
On icons, Irenaeus is depicted as wearing a beard. For the Greek Christians of that time, this meant that before his conversion to Christianity, this man was a philosopher. Thus, visible evidence was brought that, according to Paul, the true wisdom of every person is from God - the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 1:30). Over time, this outward practice spread to the entire Eastern clergy. However, its true semantics has been irretrievably lost.